What is in this article?:
- Storm chasing technology gaining favor with viewers
- An extension of the promo department
For local stations, getting as close to the “action” as possible has meant improved ratings and more accurate storm coverage.
These days, local news stations are doing anything they can to attract viewers and improve ratings. Most recently, the severe weather in different parts of the country has helped keep viewers glued to their TVs, so broadcasters are providing live coverage like never before. For local stations, it has meant getting as close to the “action” as possible with “mobile weather lab” vehicles. And there’s an added bonus; these converted SUVs — which make use of the latest KA/KU satellite and cellular transmission technology — are a great promotional tool and as such are being featured prominently on-air during a storm.
These are not your soccer-mom-type vehicles. They typically include limited high-definition production capabilities as well as National Weather Service radar images, wireless Internet access, GPS navigation and Skype capability. LED crawls on the top of the SUV can display up to the minute the weather (and station) information.
“There’s no doubt that the emergence of the mobile weather lab is directly related to the severe weather we have seen over the past winter and station’s desire to bring the viewer closer to the weather event,” said John Payne, chief technology officer and vice president of engineering at Integrated Microwave Technologies (IMT), a company based in Hackettstown, NJ, that builds such weather vans. In the past 18 months, IMT has delivered more than a dozen such vehicles for major market stations across the country, including several for the CBS network in New York (WCBS), Philadelphia (KYW) and San Francisco (KPIX).
A weather station on wheels
Paul Deanno, chief meteorologist at KPIX, wrote a blog when their van was earlier this year beaming at the possibilities.
“Ask anyone, and they’ll tell you our Bay Area climate is as diverse as the people who call the Bay Area home,” he wrote. “So to really understand the weather, you need to hit the road and experience it. It is the Bay Area’s first state-of-the-art weather station on wheels.”
The KPIX 5 Mobile Weather Lab, built by IMT, boasts two dashboard mounted cameras with satellite capability and 3G/4G wireless connectivity that allow KPIX 5 meteorologists to go live from location even when in motion.
“That’s key because we will show the conditions changing by the minute as we approach any severe weather,” Deanno wrote.
The audio and video production equipment in the weather vans configured by IMT — made up of retrofitted Audi Quattros, Chevy Suburbans, Toyota Highlanders and Buick Enclaves — are installed at IMT’s facility in its Carlyle, PA, where the company’s engineers outfit standard SUVs, large and small, with COFDM wireless microwave transmitters, dashboard-mounted HD cameras, rooftop gyro-stabilized antennas, camera-mounted microwave and cellular transmitters, and a wireless router and modem. The whole process takes about 90 days to complete.
A wireless camera operator, using an IMT MicroLight transmitter, feeds video back into the on-board weather lab. This allows the reporter to switch between live video and weather images. This video can also be fed over KA band satellite links if the equipment is available.
Typically, this video equipment is in addition to an on-board weather station (with instruments for temperature, wind speed, barometric pressures, etc.), and an Apple TV box and iPad for sharing radar data that can be show on a plasma screen mounted in the rear of the vehicle — which the reporter can point to while on-air to display weather graphics in lieu of a green screen studio.
These vehicles are usually smaller than a typical ENG van, where editing and other activities occur on board, so more internal space is required. The idea is that a single person can set everything up and begin broadcasting immediately.